Attract Birds to Your Feeder: Proven Tips for a Bird-Friendly Backyard

A warm breeze rustles through the branches as birdsong fills the air. There’s no denying that spring has arrived. For us gardeners, the changing season marks a time of renewal and preparation. Now is when we ready our gardens for a new life, laying down fresh mulch and prepping our soils. But we humans aren’t the only ones tending to our yards. Our feathered friends also prepare for the coming months by building nests and rearing chicks. 

As an avid gardener and bird watcher in Wisconsin, I always look forward to this time of year. It’s a chance to welcome familiar migrating bird species back home and discover new visitors. And one of my favorite ways to attract nesting birds is through birdhouses. A well-placed birdhouse invites breeding birds to raise their young on your property. But it takes more than hanging up any old box and hoping for the best. It would help if you created an enticing environment that caters to your avian guests’ needs.

In this article, I’ll share my tips and tricks for attracting nesting birds to your backyard using birdhouses. These suggestions are tried and true methods that I’ve honed over decades of gardening right here in the diverse landscapes of Wisconsin. Let’s explore the joys of birdhouse gardening!

The correct location for a birdhouse

Understanding Your Avian Guests

Before setting up a birdhouse, it’s vital to understand which feathered species are likely visitors to your yard. North America is home to various breeding birds that utilize cavities for nesting. Some of the most common backyard birds drawn to birdhouses include:

  • Bluebirds: Prefer open grassy areas with scattered trees.
  • Chickadees: Like mature woods with dense undergrowth.
  • House Wrens: Nest in semi-open areas near woods.
  • Tree Swallows: Nest in open fields and wetlands.
  • Purple Martins: Colonize in groups in open spaces.

Knowing the preferred nesting habitats of your target bird species will help you choose the best location for your birdhouses later on. For instance, bluebirds like their houses in open fields, while chickadees prefer the shelter of mature woods. 

But it’s not just habitat preferences you need to keep in mind. Different bird species also have unique requirements regarding the nest box itself. Size, shape, entrance hole placement, etc., all play a role in which birds will reside. For example, Platform nesters like robins and phoebes like wide open shelves or ledges rather than enclosed boxes. 

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Research the common birds in your area and their nesting needs. Consult resources from conservation groups like the National Audubon Society to learn about the species native to your region. This will set you up for success in attracting nesters to your birdhouses.

What color should my birdhouse be

Choosing the Right Birdhouse

Now that you know your local avian species and their housing requirements, it’s time to pick or build the perfect birdhouse. You’ll need to take into account factors like:

Birdhouse Types and the Birds They Attract

Birdhouses come in all different shapes, sizes, and styles. But which one is right for your feathered nesters? 

  • Bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, and many other backyard birds prefer classic enclosed bird boxes with a hole entrance. 
  • Wrens are like small enclosed nest boxes with tiny holes.
  • Purple martins are very social and prefer specialized multi-unit houses.
  • Birds that nest on platforms, like barn swallows, need open bird shelves or custom platforms.

Consult a birding resource like the National Wildlife Federation to match your target species with the ideal birdhouse type. This will maximize your chances of getting nesters to take up residence.

Birdhouse Materials 

Traditional wood birdhouses allow insulation against temperature extremes and protection from predators. Cedar and pine are great wood choices as they are naturally rot-resistant. 

Stay away from metal or plastic with poor insulation properties and can overheat or get too cold. However, concrete birdhouses are incredibly durable and safe from predators, though pricier and more complicated to install.

I recommend untreated natural wood that offers birds safety. Also, look for birdhouses made of sustainable and eco-friendly resources.

7 Easy ways to get birds to come to your birdhouse

Size of the Birdhouse and Entrance Hole

The size of a nesting box and its entrance hole are two of the most critical factors. Matching these to the target bird species ensures they can comfortably enter and move around the box.

As a general rule of thumb, smaller birds like chickadees and wrens need a 1-1.5 inch opening. Larger birds, such as bluebirds and tree swallows, require a 1.5-inch entrance hole. 

Measure the interior floor space, too. Sparrows need a 4×4 inch floor, while purple martins prefer 6×6 inches. Getting these specifications right goes a long way in attracting nesting birds.

Location, Location, Location

You found the perfect birdhouse. But simply hanging it up anywhere may not convince birds to settle in. Choosing the ideal location is critical for nesting success. Here are my top placement tips:

Pick a Safe and Secluded Spot

Birds desire security when nesting, so pick a spot away from high-traffic areas. Areas near bird feeders or frequented by pets can deter nesters. 

Also, avoid locations where pesticides are used, as these chemicals can harm birds and their food sources. A bit of seclusion and safety helps create a nesting sanctuary.

Install at the Optimal Height

Different species have preferred heights for their nests. Smaller birds, like wrens, nest at about 5 feet high. Bluebirds like 6 feet, while purple martins nest 10-15 feet up. 

Place the birdhouse in a spot that receives plenty of sunlight

Mounting birdhouses on metal poles or high tree branches prevents ground predators from disturbing nests. Just be sure to use birder-approved methods that won’t harm trees.

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Face the Entrance Away From Wind and Rain  

Pointing the hole away from the prevailing winds and precipitation lets birds enter and exit quickly. This also helps keep the interior dry and well-ventilated.

In most of North America, an eastward-facing entrance is best. It gives parent birds a break from the hot afternoon sun while allowing morning sunlight to warm the box.

Creating an Inviting Environment

Setting up the perfect birdhouse in the ideal spot isn’t always enough to attract birds. You also need to create an enticing environment around the birdhouse. Here are some of my best tips:

Landscape with Diverse Native Plants

Incorporating native plants offers natural food sources like seeds, berries, and nectar. Trees like dogwoods attract insects that parent birds need to raise their chicks. 

Seek native plants like Elderberry, Serviceberry, and Trumpet Honeysuckle that provide fruits, flowers, and shelter. Audubon’s Native Plant Database is a great resource.

Add Water Sources like Birdbaths

Providing fresh water encourages birds to stick around your yard. Choose a shallow birdbath or add a mister so birds can bathe and drink quickly. 

Keep birdbaths clean to prevent disease, and use a heater in winter to ensure an ice-free water source all year.

Make sure the birdhouse is clean and has a fresh coat of paint

Supplement with Feeders and Birdseed

Different seeds attract different bird species. Offering nyjer, peanuts, millet, and suet boosts the food sources available to nesting pairs. 

Vary the types of feeders, too. Platform feeders on the ground appeal to juncos and doves, while finch feeders suit smaller birds.

Together, these elements create a flourishing bird habitat centered around your birdhouses. This provides everything nesting birds need to settle in your yard and raise their young.

Birdhouse Maintenance and Safety

Installing functional birdhouses in strategic spots and enriching the habitat are fantastic first steps. But your job still needs to be completed. Ensuring the health, safety, and longevity of your bird sanctuary requires diligent birdhouse maintenance. 

Annual Birdhouse Cleaning

As nesting season ends, thoroughly clean out your birdhouses. This prevents the spread of disease and parasites to the next generation of birds.

Wear gloves when removing old nesting materials, as they can harbor mites and bacteria. Use a wire brush to remove debris, then disinfect with a non-toxic solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.

Monitor for Predators

Watch for signs of chewing or damage, as predators like raccoons may try to access nests. Discourage them by using metal predator guards over holes.

Also, watch for aggressive, non-native birds attacking nests. Remove non-native plants and bird feeders that may attract them. 

Provide a water source near the birdhouse.

Avoid Pesticide Use 

Insect-eating birds rely on the insects and larvae eliminated by pesticides. These chemicals also seep into the birds’ systems, damaging their health.

Promote natural pest control by attracting native predatory insects that birds can feed on! Things like lady beetles, lacewings, and praying mantises make safe alternatives.

With some diligent yearly maintenance, your bird sanctuary will thrive safely season after season.

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Beyond the Birdhouse – Fostering a Bird-Friendly Habitat

Want to go above and beyond just sticking up a few birdhouses? Consider transforming your entire yard into a bird-friendly habitat! Here are some steps:

Choose Native Plants

Diverse native plantings give birds ample food, nesting sites and materials, and shelter. Native plants have co-evolved with local bird species over centuries to match their needs best.

Fostering a Bird Friendly Habitat

Deciduous trees like oaks provide nuts and seeds. Evergreen trees offer berries and protective cover. And, of course, various flowering native plants supply nectar for feasting hummingbirds! 

Year-Round Water and Food

Gardens should offer a balanced habitat with food, water, and shelter available during all seasons, not just spring. 

In winter, seeds and fruits of evergreen trees and shrubs are crucial feeding stations. Keep birdbaths thawed and stock feeders with suet and birdseed to supplement natural food supplies during cold months.

Avoid Nest Disturbances

Parent birds are susceptible to disturbances during nesting season, which can jeopardize breeding success. 

In spring and summer, stop loud yard maintenance like mowing or chainsawing near birdhouses. Wait until fall and winter to trim trees and bushes used for nesting. Your patience will pay off with a thriving bird community!

Ethical Birdwatching and Engagement

As rewarding as it is to host breeding birds, it’s also crucial that we interact ethically with our flying neighbors. Here are some key considerations:

Ethical Birdwatching and Engagement

Practice Respectful Observation

Use caution when photographing or observing birdhouses, as too much disruption can distress birds and endanger nests. 

Avoid sharing nest locations on social media or with groups, which can attract nest predators. Always respect closures around sensitive nesting habitats.

Do Not Disturb Nesting Birds

Parent birds will divebomb or use other tactics to keep perceived threats away from their nest. Take these cues and retreat to avoid stressing nesting pairs!

Nest abandonment and failure to properly feed chicks can happen when birds feel threatened. Simply watch from a distance if birds seem distressed by your presence.

Spread Bird-Friendly Conservation

We can all help protect the birds that share our world. Talk to neighbors about making yards more bird-friendly, volunteer for habitat restoration, put decals on windows to prevent collisions and support bird conservation organizations.

Inspiring one person to appreciate and protect our avian neighbors can make all the difference. Be that inspiration!

Bird Friendly Conservation

Welcoming charming and colorful songbirds to your yard is one of the greatest joys of gardening. By understanding birds’ needs, creating an enticing habitat, and responsibly maintaining birdhouses, you’ll soon enjoy the sights and sounds of your new feathered neighbors. 

As you observe bluebird pairs feeding their chicks or wrens serenading you from their cozy home, you’ll know your diligent gardening work has paid off. Here’s to a flourishing birdhouse and many seasons of nesting success ahead!